DeSantis presidential announcement highlights Elon Musk’s transformation of Twitter

Ever since Elon Musk bought Twitter, he’s been clear that he sees his platform as a place for free speech, especially as a space for conservative voices, who he feels have been silenced too often. That was part of the backdrop when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces. Geoff Bennett discussed Musk’s plans and vision for Twitter with Philip Bump.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Now a look at the transformation of Twitter and the concerns around it.

    Ever since Elon Musk took over the company, he has been clear that he sees his platform as a place for free speech, especially as a space for conservative voices, who he feels have been silenced too often. That was part of the backdrop when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis formally launched his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces last night.

    But the event was plagued by lengthy delays and problems, which Musk acknowledged while it was happening.

  • Elon Musk, CEO, Twitter:

    We're just reallocating more sort of a capability to be able to handle the load here. It's really going — going crazy.

    So, yes, I'm obviously very excited to have Governor DeSantis make this…

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Now, it should be noted that the number of users listening to the event was in the hundreds of thousands, not the millions or tens of millions that would typically overwhelm the servers of other social media giants.

    We are going to focus now on Musk's plans and vision for Twitter.

    Philip Bump has been writing about that for The Washington Post. And he joins us now.

    Thanks for being with us, Phil.

    And so, look, you could argue that Ron DeSantis' unorthodox decision to announce his presidential bid on the Twitter Spaces audio stream, even with — even with its technical issues, that that really cements Twitter's newfound status on the right.

    How do you see it and how do you see the transformation of Twitter under Elon Musk's leadership?

  • Philip Bump, The Washington Post:


    No, I think it is true that Elon Musk is making a bid to be the place where the right wing of American politics can go and have a conversation. He — when he took over Twitter, and even when he first put in his bid to buy Twitter, he made very clear that he thought Twitter had made bad decisions about who was allowed to be on the platform and who wasn't.

    Twitter had been previously very assiduous about keeping off people who had been spreading information that was false, making false claims about the election or about the coronavirus pandemic. He saw those moves as being the wrong way to go. And he reinstated a number of people and, in doing so, really drew a distinction that I think was — is important to recognize between himself and, say, a FOX News.

    FOX News got in huge trouble for spreading election misinformation with this lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems. But Twitter doesn't have that same problem. It is a different sort of place, where people can go and get information, even false information.

    And that provides a power to Musk within the right-wing conversation that FOX News can't match. And I think he's starting to wake up to the possibilities that that engenders.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, let's talk more about that, the potential impact on the media.

    You mentioned FOX News. Their ratings have declined dramatically since that network parted ways with Tucker Carlson. Now you have Tucker Carlson and the team behind The Daily Wire, which is a conservative media outlet, they're now saying they're going to produce content for Twitter. What's the impact of that?

  • Philip Bump:

    Well, it depends on how it goes, right?

    One would have said that the impact of a major presidential candidate making his announcement on Twitter would have been big up until about 6:00 p.m. on — yesterday. So we will see how it goes.

    It certainly is the case that there are a lot more people who have access to viewing, say-, Tucker Carlson's show on Twitter than they do on FOX News. Whether or not it's the same audience is an open question. And whether or not you can actually support an hour of looking at your phone or watching Twitter on your laptop is another question too.

    It's not clear that the same demographic groups that would watch FOX News will also tune in to Twitter, which means, to some extent, that these audiences are going to have to — they're going to have to create new audiences.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The value of any social network is its users and the communities they create.

    And Twitter under the previous ownership became this powerful online network of people who were able to circumvent mainstream channels to have their voices heard. And that gave rise to any number of powerful social movements, not just in this country, but around the world.

    You maintain that one of the reasons why Elon Musk wanted to buy Twitter was to dismantle those communities. Tell me more about that.

  • Philip Bump:

    Well, I think particularly one community, which is the community of the media and journalists.

    Elon Musk has — like many major business owner or very wealthy person, has had a very often adversarial relationship with the press. I think he very quickly realized that, if he took ownership of Twitter, he would be able to mute or muffle the extent to which the media were powerful on the social media platform.

    Twitter was uniquely a home for the media relative to other social media platforms. And Elon Musk was able to effectively make the media less powerful on Twitter simply by giving them less prominence through the verification badge and things along those lines.

    And that, at the same time, then empowers people who want to present information that isn't necessarily accurate, that is potentially unvetted or partisan, and allows them to be on equal playing field with people who actually try and be objective about what they're saying, which, obviously, then is advantageous to those who might want to offer information that's not necessarily accurate.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    In preparing to speak with you and doing the research, I looked up some Pew Research Center data, and they found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to use Twitter, almost twice as many Democrats on the platform than Republicans.

    Might that change under Elon Musk's leadership? And what do you see as the net effect on our election and our politics generally?

  • Philip Bump:

    Yes, I think it almost certainly will change or has changed already. Those Pew numbers are from last year, at the latest, as I recall.

    So, yes, I think that's already changed. I think one of the things that happened after Musk took over and Twitter started to change its policies and practices was, you saw a lot of people from the political left start to drop off and use it less frequently.

    That also correlates to age, though, right? Younger people are much more heavily Democratic than Republican. Younger people are more likely to use social media platforms. So that was also part of it. So, you — by changing the demographics of who uses Twitter, you're also changing the politics of it.

    And I think that presents an opportunity for the people who are engaged and excited about Twitter who may not share Musk's politics to find somewhere else where they can congregate and have that same level of activity.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Philip Bump of The Washington Post, thanks so much for your insights.

  • Philip Bump:

    Thank you.

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